Steve Lacy to Play for Inmates at Chino; Kei Akagi Picked for Miles Davis World Tour

American expatriate soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy will make an unusual return stop Monday on the Western swing of his current U.S. tour when he performs for the inmates at the California Institute for Men at Chino. Hornman Lacy, who has been living in Paris for more than 20 years, will bring his sextet to the same prison at which he played a duo concert with pianist Mal Waldron last September.

The avant-garde-leaning music offered by Lacy is typical of what Tom Skelly, artist facilitator for the prison who produced the concert, chooses for the inmates. “I’ve been sticking with avant-garde because I’m into providing an experience that has educational value,” he said. "(Avant-garde) challenges people’s ears, makes them think. It’s, as Laurie Anderson calls it, ‘Difficult music,’ not something to just party with. It’s more of an artistic experience than music as Muzak.”

Monday’s show will take place in the prison’s gymnasium, and Skelly expects about 200 attendees out of an inmate population of 1,500. “All kinds of people will come, not just those who know Lacy’s work or who are musicians,” said Skelly, who’s been bringing artists to Chino for 8 years. Skelly said that the after-performance question-and-answer sessions prove that the inmates get a lot out of these shows. “They ask anything from technical questions to practical matters, such as how to have a career as a musician, to aesthetic questions,” he said.

Skelly produces music performances about three times a year. In the past, he’s presented such Los Angeles-based artists as reedmen John Carter, Vinny Golia and Marty Krystall, cornetist Bobby Bradford, pianist Horace Tapscott and bassist Buell Neidlinger. Grants from the prison, the federally supported Meet the Composer and UCLA Extension’s ArtsReach helped fund the Lacy performance.


Other Southland engagements for Lacy, whose “The Door” (RCA Novus) LP has just been issued, include a Tuesday-Thursday stop at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood and a workshop Wednesday on his music and that of Thelonious Monk at CalArts, Valencia.

DAVIS’ NEW KEYBOARDIST: Kei Akagi, who has worked with Al DiMeola, Flora Purim and Airto and flutist James Newton, has been selected as Miles Davis’ synthesist for the trumpeter’s world tour, due to start in April.

Akagi, 35, said he was recommended to Davis’ road manager, Gordon Meltzer--who hired him--by DiMeola’s road manager, Dave Lang. “I was very surprised to get the call, since most of the audition tape I submitted was on piano and not synths,” said Akagi.

The keyboardist is excited, if a little anxious, about working with jazz’s most renowned figure, who is currently recuperating at his Malibu home from a brief bout of pneumonia. “It’s scary, given who he is and what he’s done,” he said.


Akagi, a native of Japan who’s been living in the Southland since 1975, returned to his former Tokyo home last December, working for a month as the musical director of a stage show that featured songs by singer-songwriter Yosui Inoue.

“I took his tunes and completely rewrote them,” said Akagi. “It was a slightly experimental situation, in that my band--(Frank Gambale, guitar, Bob Harrison, bass and Tom Brechtlein, drums)--was on stage with the cast. We even had a few lines, there was lots of blowing room for the band, and in the middle I did a couple of my own tunes as instrumentals.”

The keyboardist, who performs Thursday with Gambale’s band at LeCafe in Sherman Oaks and Friday at the Comeback Inn in Venice with a trio featuring bassist John Leftwich and drummer Ralph Penland, also did a night at Tokyo’s internationally known jazz spot, the Pit Inn. “We packed the place,” said Akagi, whose band was dubbed the Kei Akagi-Frank Gambale Project for this occasion. “There were people standing in line before we even unloaded. My friend (guitarist) Kazumi Watanabe, was a guest, so there were a lot of guitarists in the crowd.”

CURRENT AND CHOICE: “Locomotive” from Buell Neidlinger’s String Jazz (Soul Note) is a vital, eclectic assortment of Ellington and Monk compositions. With Brenton Banks’ violin, Jon Kurnick’s mandolin and Marty Krystall’s tenor sax in the forefront, the band blends a lighter-than-air ethereality with a gut-bucket insouciance. Monk’s incredibly hard “Skippy” and the Ducal favorite, “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” are just two of the tunes brought off with elan. ****.